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Gisbert Greshake

Every Child Understands That


From: Neue Stadt, 2/2006, P. 4-6
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Triune action is the most plausible thing of the world for the theologian Gisbert Greshake - also in the field of politics. What that means in the small and large fields of politics he describes in this interview with NEUE STADT.

    Born 1933 in Recklinghausen, Gisbert Greshake studied philosophy and theology in Münster and Rome. After his ordination in 1960 he worked as minister and attained a doctorate with Walter Kasper in Münster. From 1970 to 1974 he was scientific assistant in Tübingen and subsequently - until 1985 - professor for dogmatic theology and dogma history in Vienna. From 1985 on he taught dogmatic theology and ecumenical theology in Freiburg in Breisgau. In 1999 he retired and is since then visiting professor at the Gregoriana in Rome.
    NEUE STADT: Mr. Greshake, let us talk about two terms that are seldom connected with each other: Trinity and politics ...

GRESHAKE: ... what certainly does not mean that we can sketch a political program {1} from the belief in the Trinity. The infinite God cannot so simply be applied to our finite reality.

    But we may nevertheless talk about this topic?

Naturally! Leonardo Boff says, "Faith in the triune God is an inspiration for our acting." That means: From the belief in the Trinity we can derive inspirations also for politics. How they then are realized in practice can probably only be clarified in a dialogue with politicians.

    But Immanuel Kant meant one could not draw "any practical use" from the doctrine on God's Trinity.

I can duplicate that, when I remember how theology for a long time dealt with that topic. In my years of study in this connection we mockingly dismissed some lectures as "triune geometry". The only interesting question for me was then, whether the divine persons could say 'you' to each other. Here too we students mocked and said, "certainly they use the formal form of address to each other." But the question was not at all absurd, for it aims at the core: at the topic "relation".

    Can you do more with the trinity in the meantime?

Even quite much. Briefly summarized Trinity means: God is in itself community. That is, the highest being is neither a lonely monarch nor a heavenly super-father or a "compact absolute entity" but a community of three persons. When I accept this through faith then it has enormous consequences.




Let me still muse for a moment on the nature of the Trinity! Then also the consequences will become clear.
In the last analysis Trinity is nothing else but the explication of the New Testament's maxim: God Is Love. But love does need the partner. That means, there are 'I' and 'you' in God - Father and Son. And what is more, there is no perfect love between 'I' and 'you' alone. For that could still be egoism of two, with which 'I' am reflected in 'you' and 'you in 'me'. No, love only becomes perfect when 'I' and 'you' turn together to something third or to someone third. In God that is the Holy Spirit. Applied to us human beings, for example to the family, it can be the turn of the two partners to God, to their children, to the common work. But whatsoever, from the triune God we learn what love actually is.
I would like to emphasize a second aspect. Trinity means: Unity and variety have the same origin and essence. Somewhat provokingly formulated that means for us human beings: The other person belongs to my own identity. I do not become I myself by dissociating me from him/her but by entering into a relationship with her/him. I must therefore not eliminate or adapt to me the heterogeneity of the other person. I will only find my personal maturity when I give myself away to the other person and when the other person responds to this gift.
Seen from the triune God the difference appears so as something beneficial and not as something that has to be given up for the sake of a misunderstood harmony.

    From these two aspects consequences for political acting can be suspected already.

Indeed! But the conclusions are still much more fundamental, and reach far beyond politics.

    Then I suggest that we rehearse this understanding on some practical fields. What means the belief in the triune God for my view of the human person?

As aforementioned it means that I need the other person to become I myself, but that I must not use her/him as tool for my development. She/he will always remain the other person, whom I must recognize and acknowledge as such. That means: We are mutually growing by human relations. And when we do not grow through each other, relationships will break.

    Do I not fall by the wayside then?

This concern is unfounded. My ego is the most precious treasure I can finally give the other person. But I win my Ego so much the more as I meet the other person, give me away to her/him. This can, by the way, be clarified very well by the childhood psychology: The child develops in a mature way only in relation to the 'you' of its mother and father.

    Let us look next at concrete party politics. Is there such a thing like acting in the way of the "triune God"?

Certainly! Acting in the way of the divine Trinity - as I have just outlined it - means: The other person's different being is indispensable for the own identity. That means also: Only when I acknowledge this heterogeneity, we will together reach the truth. Truth is ultimately something that happens in the dialogue and not in a power struggle, where at the end "the one voice more" decides on the thing that has to be done. Of course, in politics it will always occur that things are decided because just one (side, party, person ...) has the final say, and closes, yes, has to close a discussion, even if it may hurt the others. We live in a sinful world, and since we all are and remain egoists, it will not always, yes, even in the rarest cases end harmoniously.
For the sake of truth, however, we should try time and again to find solutions together, without polemic, games and intrigues and without victors and vanquished at the end - that would be Trinitarian policy. By the way, this basic attitude is in my opinion more strongly marked in Austria than in Germany.



    Can this thought also be applied to the relations between states?

In any case. Let me mention one factor only: Trinity means - as we saw - unity and variety have one and the same origin. But what we experience today during the so-called globalization process is the absolute supremacy of unity, respectively uniformity. The oneness gets its way: the one world economy, the one interests of big business, the intentions of the one dominant power.
We need not wonder that the Islamic world rebels against this being pocketed by the Western ideology.
Indeed, a world community cannot become reality in this way. That can only be done by acknowledgment of differences and variety. Why are people in the meantime in Germany and Austria so dissatisfied with the European Union? Because too much is standardized! The area of differences becomes smaller and smaller, even if there are of course things that are jointly to be laid down by us. But it is nevertheless ridiculous when the radius of the curvature of a cucumber is fixed. That shows how brutal processes of standardization can be.

    You mentioned the relation to Islam. What does acting in the way of the triune God mean for the meeting of cultures and religions?

First of all, we stand in need of high estimation of other cultures - exactly against the globalization trend already mentioned, which aims just at creating a standard culture. In opposition to that it is necessary to respect the culture of others to the utmost! To the culture belongs always also the religion of the other person. In this view also the other religions are ways of God's salvation. For according to my Christian faith everything in the world is created in Christ and toward Christ. That's why also in other religions the mystery of God's love, God's loving attention to people becomes visible. That mystery is to be discovered.
And when everything is ultimately created towards Christ, then also the salvation ways of other religions will find their fulfilment in him. That means for instance in quite concrete terms: A Hindu is actually only then allowed to become a Christian when s/he realizes that s/he has not to abandon any value that s/he represented so far but will only profit.
That is the contrary to a colonialist way of mission, where conversion means to leave more or less completely one's former context, in order to become a Christian. I think that is theologically not correct. It must ultimately be possible to show that the way gone up to now really gets its completion in Christ and needn't be totally denied.

    But is in the end the triune action not too complicated and therefore unpractical again?

No, really not! It would be much won when we were able to agree on passing on the simple Catechism truth: "God Is Community". I can make that clear to children by simple examples. And what it means is actually very plausible. It is so plausible that you for certain consequences of believing in God's Trinity doesn't need at all to bring into play that faith. Strictly speaking, in all of us the knowledge lies dormant that these consequences are right and in tune with the human reality.
But we should not forget: It is not the object of our belief in God's Trinity to win by it directions for our actions. God rather revealed himself to us so, as the Triune, and we answer to that by our faith. But as images of that triune God we recognize at the same time that "the triune" pattern in the structures of this world is the actual plausible thing. And as Christian you should have a special sensitivity for these structures.

    Thank you, Mr. Greshake, for this really deep reaching discussion.

Joachim Schwind


{1} This interview is based on Gisbert Greshake's lecture at a conference of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria. The text is published in the magazine "Zur Debatte" No. 2/2006. You can send your questions to the editorial staff of the NEUE STADT.

A very good introduction on this topic is offered in the book: Gisbert Greshake, Kleine Hinführung zum Glauben an den dreieinen Gott. Herder Freiburg 2005, ISBN 3-451-28611-4. You can get it via Book Order Service of NEUE STADT


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